John P. Elcik, Sr. , my great-great-grandfather and namesake, immigrated to America in the late 1800s. His immigration and other details of his life are well-documented due to the United States Federal Census program. Every ten years, every citizen and non-citizen—living in the United States is counted. The personally identifiable information collected for a decennial census gives us a special chance to add vital new details to our ancestors’ stories. Topics of special interest include ancestry, family, education, language, occupation, income, and housing.
United States Federal Census
The 1910 U.S. Federal Census is a recognition of John Elcik and Mary Pelcarsky’s presence in America. That fact doesn’t come without controversy. The census immediately introduces us to what will be an ongoing puzzle. Why does my grandfather spell his surname as Elsik and the surname of Mary and his children Elcik? Finding meaning in records that are sometimes just errors will be the theme behind several puzzles we must solve.
A second controversy introduced with the census is where did our ancestors come from in Europe. The 1910 U.S. Census records show John Elsik immigrated from Austria and Mary Pelcarsky from Slovenia. The oral history given to us and substantiated by other documents is that both immigrated from Czechoslovakia. This difference in location is explainable. United States immigration officials did not separate the different ethnic groups within the Austro-Hungarian Empire during processing. They counted all Slovaks as Austrians.
It wasn’t until 1918 that the Czechs and neighboring Slovaks joined together and formed Czechoslovakia’s independent republic. The territory from which the Elcik’s immigrated was part of Austria-Hungary before WWI. Then, during World War II, the region was occupied by the Germans. After the War, Czechoslovakia fell within the Soviet sphere of influence and became a Warsaw Pact member.
In 1968, the Warsaw Pact troop’s invasion ended its leaders’ efforts to liberalize the Communist Party. With the collapse of Soviet authority in 1989, Czechoslovakia regained its freedom and became a sovereign state.
Where Do We Start?
We start with my great-grandfather, and we start in Durham, Maine. This is necessary because his parents and siblings are at this point unknown to us. We don’t know where in Europe or under what surname to begin a search, even more disappointing.